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Superintendent Severance Deals Could Be Limited Under Newly Introduced Legislation

By Jeff Hudson - March 20, 2009

Two proposed bills would put limits and restrictions on the contracts between California school districts and superintendents.

Senate Bill 307, introduced by Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-San Jose), would require the governing board of a school district to include the following provisions in any contract for the services of a district superintendent:

    1. The district shall not provide any compensation to the superintendent after the expiration of the term of the contract;
    2. The district shall not provide any type of severance compensation to a superintendent who resigns before the expiration of the term of the contract;
    3. The district shall conduct a review of the performance of the superintendent at the close of each year of the term of the contract.

Assembly Bill 164, introduced by Assemblyman Tony Mendoza (D-Norwalk), would prohibit the governing board of a school district from entering into an employment contract with a district superintendent that contains provisions that obligate the district to compensate the district superintendent for work that he or she has not performed.

In addition, the Mendoza bill would require the governing board of a school district to include in any contract for the services of a district superintendent the provision that the district superintendent shall receive no retirement, medical, dental, or other benefits that would exceed the benefits that a civil service employee with a substantially similar salary in the district would earn during an equivalent period of service.

The Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) was quick to oppose both bills. In a statement, ACSA stressed that "unlike teachers, a superintendent can be released without cause. School superintendents are at-will employees without any due process rights."

ACSA said the bills would allow a local school board to "unilaterally, and without cause, terminate a multi-year superintendent contract without compensation. Current law allows for up to 18 months of a superintendent's contract to be paid upon dismissal by the board. And often times, Early Termination Clauses in superintendent contracts are negotiated at far below the 18-month maximum."

The ACSA statement added "superintendents' positions are vulnerable after every school board election, depending on who is elected and what philosophy or political cause those persons have. It is all too common for a superintendent to be dismissed after school board elections with the simple excuse given that they just don't seem to fit any longer."

Local news media are often quick to focus on situations where a superintendent is replaced, but continues to receive a salary or receives a lump sum settlement.. This same situation often arises when a city council votes to dismiss a current city manager still under contract, and hire a new one.

The bills appear to be influenced by the present economic climate – with public furor over large bonuses for senior managers at companies that had recently been rescued from insolvency by a massive infusion of federal funds.

However, these bills appear to be based on wrong assumptions and not facts. In these difficult times when many veteran educators are opting to retire and a number of vacancies exit, it would be even harder to recruit and hire highly qualified superintendents without these contractual protections.

AB 164 in particular is ill-conceived and ignores all realities on the ground and proposes to tie local school boards hands forcing them to settle for mediocrity. Since mediocrity breeds mediocrity, one has to wonder how serious certain lawmakers are about improving schools and student achievement.

Editor's Note: Jeff Hudson is the editor of EdBrief and an award-winning education reporter and writer in print, radio and television media.